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Saturday, September 29, 2007

 

Weekend Whatnot

Wow! My post about the deadbeat dad garnered twenty-five comments in just two days. A new record for my blog. Maybe I'll swear more.

A brain-eating amoeba that lives in lakes and attacks through your nose?!? Okay, I don't care how silly we look. We're all wearing nose clips to the beach next summer.

History is my son's favorite school subject. Once a week we sit down to watch a lesson-related DVD that I get from Netflix. It's going to be really hard to find anything better than the PBS documentary Benjamin Franklin, a stunning 3-hour look at the life of an amazing man. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys history.

I'm a senior citizen in blog years. That's according to Clare's Dad, who handed out Blogger Reflection Awards last week, and was nice enough to honor me with one of them. That's odd, I don't feel old. I look old, but I don't feel old.

Chocolate milk is the new sports drink. Apparently, it helps with muscle recovery during strenuous exercise and training. My alma mater, the University of Idaho, just announced that they will be keeping refrigerators fully stocked with chocolate milk in their weight room for all student-athletes.

We're slaves to our car. It's almost like an extension of our house. A family in Southern California, the automobile capital of the world, willingly gave up their car six months ago and has never been happier or healthier.


Friday, September 28, 2007

 

If I Ran The Circus



We saw the Greatest Show On Earth last week. Well, sort of. A "compact" version of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town and, despite the diminished nature of the show, I just couldn't resist the lure of the big top.

All of my childhood memories of the circus are ones of dazzling spectacle and pageantry. So this new downsized one-ring show just felt like a circus sampler. Gone was the parade of elephants, camels, and other exotic animals. Missing was the lion tamer, the human cannonball, and the motorcycle daredevil. The trapeze artists failed on two of their five stunts. The acrobats looked like Cirque du Soleil rejects. The frisbee-catching dogs were kind of lame (I can see dogs do that at the park). The single solitary elephant looked like he needed a few friends to share the spotlight.



I don't want to paint this in a completely negative light, because we actually did enjoy ourselves. It's just hard not to think of all those past circuses I've attended, with their three rings of "where do I look next" sights and sounds.

The one aspect of the show that lived up to the billing of "Greatest" was, of course, the clowns. Ringling clowns are the best in the world. On this small stage, they remained larger than life, and absolutely hilarious. We were most impressed with the bubble-blowing, toupee-popping Tom Dougherty.

Also fun to see was Jon Weiss, the one-time clown and human cannonball, who is now host of the show. If you've ever watched CBS's The Amazing Race, you'll know Jon. He worked the crowd effortlessly and was quite a hit with the ladies, even the one he almost dropped.



So it wasn't the super colossal circus of my youth. And maybe parts of it needed a bit of work (or more practice in the case of the trapeze artists). And certainly the one elephant wasn't enough to satisfy the animal parade enthusiasts.

But, despite all of that, it's still the circus. Big or small, I think it's the greatest.


Frozen clown brains, only ten bucks!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

 

Bleeping Men

If you've been reading my blog for some time, then you know that I don't use profanity in my posts. But today I have to make an exception, because there's a question that I really have to ask:

Why are men such assholes sometimes?

Today at my son's PE class, a mom introduced herself to me and then proceeded to tell me one of the saddest stories I've heard in a long time.

It seems that her husband abruptly moved the family from Arizona to North Idaho for a job that was the same kind of job he had before. A lateral move, no other reason to make such a move. Once they arrived here, it was obvious to the wife that her husband was familiar with the area, but he wouldn't say why. He started spending evenings and weekends away from home, saying that he was working overtime or meeting friends to play cards.

One Saturday, while her husband was away on a business trip, the woman took her kids, ages 5, 7, and 12, to a nature trail to collect leaves and pinecones for a school project. The 12-year-old boy excitedly ran up the trail ahead of them, disappearing around some trees. A few minutes later, he came running back with a scared look on his face.

It seems that dear old dad was just up the trail admiring the scenery. With a young lady. And their two children.

Yup. He had another family.

Now comes the saddest part. The divorce went quickly and amicably. But when it came time to make arrangements for visits with his children, their father declined, telling his ex-wife that he wants to "start over with my new family."

Can you imagine how his kids must feel, being rejected by their dad because he wants a do-over with his life?

Like I said, why are men such assholes sometimes?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

 

Book Battle

When I was a kid, there were some hard and fast choices to be made.

Coke or Pepsi?

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

Superman or Batman?

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Angels or Dodgers?

However, the one I've remained most stubborn about my entire life is The Three Investigators versus The Hardy Boys. I came down squarely on the side of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews. To this day I still have my cherished collection of first edition Three Investigators novels.

I've read most of them to my son, wanting to enjoy them all over again with him, and he's become as enthralled as I was with the three clever friends who solve ghostly mysteries.

The problem is he's playing both sides and finds equal enjoyment in reading about those bumbling Hardy brothers. He has his own growing collection of Hardy Boys books, which I give disdainful glances whenever I'm in his room.

But a few weeks ago my son called me out. He asked, "Daddy, have you ever tried reading a Hardy Boys book?" I had to admit that for one reason or another I just never got around to them.

That night, when I went into my room to get ready for bed, I found this on my pillow:



The note reads "I hope you read this book and enjoy it." He had picked out one of his favorites for me.

I read it. It wasn't bad. Actually kind of exciting in places. I have to give props to the Hardy Boys for being extremely brave (or really stupid) and running headlong into some dangerous situations. The book was well written, a real page-turner for young boys. I guess it'll be okay if my son reads both series.

But still, I'd rather spend the day exploring secret passages in the Jones Salvage Yard, riding around in a Rolls Royce, and meeting Alfred Hitchcock!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

 

Reading Break



This is how homeschoolers take an afternoon reading break.


Friday, September 21, 2007

 

Scary September

My kids are Halloween-crazy. They get that way every year around the first of September when the stores switch out their back-to-school displays for shelves full of plastic pumpkins and inflatable witches.

But I can't take two solid months of my kids talking non-stop about ghoulish decorations and creepy costumes, so last year ago I made a rule that we would not think about Halloween until after my birthday, which is at the end of this month.

This kind of backfired on me. When my wife asked the kids if they could think of anything special to do on my birthday, they answered, "Yes! Take Daddy to the Halloween store!"


Thursday, September 20, 2007

 

Wacky Web Searches

I've always enjoyed when bloggers list the weird and wacky web searches that lead people to their blogs, so I thought I'd look through my stats page to see what's been bringing people here in recent weeks.

Apparently I don't attract the weird and wacky crowd. Google sends all the depressing searches my way:

"my daddy's in Iraq"
"bad dreams kids"
"tetherball son brother died"
"movies with toilet plunger"
"death dishwasher"
"stomach bug throwing up"
"teenager leaving home"
"the horror the horror heart of darkness"
"inflatable bounce horror story"
"rain rain go away"


I do have to admit that the phrase "movies with toilet plunger" would definitely qualify as wacky. And very very weird.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

 

More Than Words

My son didn't talk until he was almost three years old. At least he did better than me. I didn't talk until I was four.

He's nine now and doesn't know how to stop talking. His vocabulary is huge, and the ideas coming out of his head are sometimes stunning. The problem comes with the speed of his words. He speaks slowly and carefully, a by-product of years of speech therapy.

Most adults have the patience to hear him out, but I've noticed that many kids his age won't. They interrupt or talk over him. That only leads to frustration and increasing shyness on my son's part.

Today we were at the park when a friend he hadn't seen in a long time ran up to him and started talking a mile a minute about how his summer went. My son couldn't get a word in, and when the friend finally asked him a question, he seemed overwhelmed to try and match the speed at which the other boy had been talking.

It's like he's PBS talking to MTV.

I try not to call attention to his speech mannerisms. Many kids his age who have speech problems deal with it by not talking much at all, so I am proud of him for not just giving up. Pointing out the careful enunciation of words and the frequent pauses might make him overly self-conscious.

However, I do have him practice speaking by reading out loud from his books during the school day. We also have many give-and-take discussions about various topics that pop up during his studies (today we had a long talk about alternative energy). Verbal communication is an underrated skill, and one which has fallen by the wayside in our schools. I don't mean just public speaking, but also the simple act of carrying on a coherent conversation with another person.

Over time I hope that the speed of his words matches the speed of his thoughts and he has another tool with which to express himself to the world. If he can't do that, I'm afraid his head might explode. And that would be just one more thing I'd have to clean up.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

 

Britney's Next Move

Britney Spears needs to make a bold new career move where she can continue to grow as an artist and be a mother to her two children.

My advice to her: Britney, look to the past for inspiration...



Monday, September 17, 2007

 

Football, You Bet

A friend of mine moved from North Idaho to Fairbanks, Alaska, a few years ago. Since then he's been relying on me to keep him updated and informed about our alma mater's sports teams, especially football.

So I email him copies of game articles, plus tidbits of info that I hear about facilities improvements, recruits, and scheduling.

But the other day, for the first time, he asked me a direct question: Is Akey using the traditional spread-speed offense of Idaho’s past or is he bringing in a running game?

I felt like the President being asked about his Iraq strategy. "Huh? Uh, I, ummm, what was the question again?"

People see me walking around in my Idaho Vandals hat and automatically think I'm a sports expert. I wear that hat for two reasons: To cover a do-it-yourself haircut, and because I'm a huge fan of the University of Idaho itself. Attending that rural residential campus was a defining time of my life, so I support it any way that I can.

But football? Oh, yes, I enjoy watching it in a very casual way. But "traditional spread-speed offense"? I don't speak that language. If I delved too deeply into the finer points of the game, it would probably ruin some of the enjoyment I have of watching it. I would stress and obsess, like I used to do with baseball many years ago.

I must be passing this lack of interest in the nuts and bolts of football on to my kids. They like the sport, but I think their excitement about attending live games has more to do with the prospect of cotton candy and nachos than anything else. They won't have anything to do with watching it on TV. My son would rather watch extreme motocross or golf. And the only sports he likes to play are soccer and basketball.

When I'm around groups of people discussing football in-depth, I just smile and nod and grunt in agreement. I care about a lot of things in this world, but defensive formations and quarterback ratings are not among them.

So if you see me in my Vandal hat, just say "Go Vandals!" and save the technical questions for someone else.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

 

Playing With Dinosaurs

When the people at Brighter Minds Media sent me their new DVD board game, Jurassic Park Explorer, my first thought was, "Oh no, not a DVD game. Those things never work right."

I was wrong! Somebody must've figured out all the bugs in these games, because my kids and I have been playing this one for the past month and it's worked perfectly.

The game is all about dinosaurs, so it's fun and educational (always a huge plus). It doesn't matter if your kids are familiar with the 1993 movie from Steven Spielberg. There are references to the island, and one quiz includes film clips, but you don't need prior knowledge of the film story.

The basic premise is that each player or team must help the scientists to explore the island, excavate bones, and even create dinosaurs. Most of the action is controlled with the DVD remote. There are seven different games and puzzles on the disc, all easily played by my kids. Their favorites included the maze and the dinosaur lab.

The beauty of this game is that each player can pick a difficulty level, so the whole family can play without the little ones feeling left out. I found the expert level, which I played at, to be a real challenge. Which probably explains why my kids keep beating me. I need to read up on my dinosaurs.

The other great thing about this game is that the little magic elves who live inside the DVD player keep track of each player's turn and points. I don't know how they do that, but it sure is a nice feature.

If you have dino-crazy kids, this is the perfect game for them. It's absolutely packed with dinosaur facts and trivia. It's recommended for kids as young as six. That sounds about right, as my 6-year-old daughter has enjoyed playing it as much as her 9-year-old brother.

Check out Jurassic Park Explorer at Amazon. Get your Christmas shopping done early!


Friday, September 14, 2007

 

Park Dad

Over the years I've taken my kids to the park hundreds of times. Thousands maybe. It's one of our favorite things to do. We have a beautiful neighborhood park less than half-a-mile away, and there's nothing better than riding our bikes over there to play.

Like any park with a kids play area, ours is populated by the ever-present pack of Park Moms. They cluster in small groups, noisily gossiping and sipping lattes. There's only one thing that can ruin the scene for these moms: The arrival of The Lone Dad. Suddenly they're very attentive to their children, calling out to ask if they need water or snacks, and sometimes even getting up from their shady spot to walk over to their kids to touch them or just stand near, as if to say, "Mine. Stay away."

Lately I've seen a new kind of fear in the eyes of the Park Moms. My kids tend to run ahead of me after we park our bikes, which means I'm usually strolling into the play area by myself. The moms look up to see a single, solitary man planting himself on a bench and staring out at the children.

Now this is a fear I can understand. So I developed a simple trick to put their minds at ease. Before I sit down, I take a few steps toward the play structure, cup my hands to my mouth, and yell at the top of my lungs, "Son! Daughter! This is your father speaking! I'll be right here on this bench! So if you need your dad for something, you know where to find me!"

Of course, if there's a camera in your hand then don't bother. Because a solitary man with a camera at the park brings out a kind of hysterical fear that no words can suppress. My advice is to only bring your camera if your wife is there with you and can stay within ten feet. Or just let her take the pictures.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

 

Through The Looking-Glass

Our lives can change in an instant.

Today, at 4:07pm, my world turned upside-down, sideways, and inside-out.

I'm not sure I'll ever get used it.

I picked up my new progressive lens eyeglasses.

They say it could take up to two weeks for my eyes to train my brain to see through these new glasses. I hope I have the patience, because right now I'm dizzy and irritable. And my blood pressure is definitely higher than normal.

The kids have wisely run for cover.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

 

One Of Those Days

When you're a parent, you're bound to have days that feel like this...



Monday, September 10, 2007

 

Second Year

After a long summer of not thinking about classwork and teaching, my son and I picked up right where we left off in June. Only this time, with one year under my belt, I consider myself a homeschooling veteran.

Our first week of fourth grade was easy for both of us. I'm better organized and, most importantly, I think I'm better able to read my son's moods and abilities. I already know that he eats up spelling and vocabulary like candy. I know that he needs more time with math. He views history as a treat, so I use it as such: "Finish up those math problems and we can learn about Benjamin Franklin."



One big change this year was a major furniture rearrangement. Our classroom is at one end of the family room. Last year we had two large desks that stretched from one wall to the other. My wife then found an old school desk, with attached chair, for five dollars at a thrift shop. My son loves that desk, and all last year he sat at it by the window. It was in an awkward place, though. And we had no shelf for his books, so they ended up in a pile on the floor. Plus, one of the big desks became a repository for all sorts of clutter.

A few weeks ago I removed that big desk and used the space for a bookshelf and my son's little school desk. He's still near the window, but not so close that it's a distraction, and now he has easy access to his workbooks and notebooks. Behind him is a couch, where he goes to read, and above him is the kitchen table, where we sometimes spread out his math work.

My son likes the fact that he has various options for his learning environment. Big desk, little desk, couch, kitchen table, backyard, floor. Oh yes, sometimes he likes to sit on the floor and work. Only he has to share it with Basil the cat, who has been planting himself in the same spot in the middle of the family room for his morning nap. He lays there until we break for lunch. He's our school mascot.



Sunday, September 09, 2007

 

Cloud Recipe



Sitting in the backyard, gazing up at a beautiful blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, my daughter turned to me and said, "I know what clouds are made of."

"And what is that?" I asked.

She said, "Air, fluffy stuff, the Universe, and white paint."

Sounds about right to me.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

 

Weekend Whatnot

Puffball, our hamster, has a new nickname. We're calling her "Lucky Puffball" after my daughter gave her a bath last night. We found the animal after about thirty minutes, wobbling around in her cage, soaked to the skin with hand sanitizer! We figured she'd be dead by morning, but I think all she suffered was a hangover.

Free stuff, how can you resist it? I forgot to mention in my review of the new Hipwaders CD that I have a free copy to give away. Leave a comment if you want it.

My son finished all seven Harry Potter books in three weeks. Now he's reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I never worry about my kids when they have a book in their hands.

Now I have a reason to visit Croatia! But seriously, why didn't Idaho think of this first?

One of my favorite mommy bloggers, BrodH20 is calling it quits. Her posts were always unique and often hilarious. My Google Reader will never be the same.

Child care costs have become so expensive. Thank goodness for outsourcing...




Friday, September 07, 2007

 

The Very Hip Hipwaders

The Hipwaders found themselves at the forefront of hip children's music last month when they were invited to play at Kidzapalooza, the kids' music festival that is a part of the larger Lollapalooza concert held in Chicago.

It's easy to see why they caught the attention of organizers. The Hipwaders make instantly irresistible pop-rock tunes in a style that ranges from early 80's Elvis Costello to the 21st century power pop of the Candy Butchers. They mesh their influences into a consistently appealing sound.

Their second CD, Educated Kid, was released this week. It's even better than their first, which received a rave review from us last summer.

Singer Tito Uquillas puts a fresh spin on a few classic subjects, like dinosaurs, siblings, math, toys, and animals. He has a unique and pleasing voice that my kids both immediately recognized when I first played the CD for them. Some of the lyrics border on, gasp, educational, but are always imaginative and fun. We're all well versed on the Dewey Decimal System now after listening to The Hipwaders' funky take on the subject.

Both my kids say there's not a bad song on the disc. Have a listen to the two tracks below, which the band has also made available for downloading on their MySpace page. A definite must-have for kids of all ages.

Buy it at Amazon or at CDBaby.

Listen: The Hipwaders - "Little Baby Brother"

Listen: The Hipwaders - "Educated Kid"


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

 

Another Day

Summer days blur into each other, but now that school has started up again I'm reminded that some days are better than others.

Like most people, I used to enjoy Friday the most. For all the obvious reasons.

But now I think my favorite day is Tuesday.

That's garbage day in my neighborhood. It's such a good feeling watching them haul away 96 gallons of our trash each week.

It feels like freedom.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

 

The Night Before School

'Twas the night before school, when all through the house
Not a creature was sleeping, not even a mouse hamster.
The books were all stacked by the desk with care
In hopes that wondrous knowledge would be found in there.

The children were flopping around on their beds,
While too much sugar pumped through their heads.
And mamma in her nightgown, and I in my cap,
Kept yelling upstairs, "Knock off that crap!"

When out in the hallway there arose such a whirl,
I sprang from the couch to see my 6-year-old girl.
She just couldn't sleep, and neither could brother,
They both were too excited to even fight with each other.

"Now listen, I'm tired! And so should you be!
Exhausted, burned out, run down, drained, empty.
Not to mention fatigued, drowsy, finished, done for,
I'll get out the thesaurus if you need to hear more!"

And then, in a twinkling, they vanished for sure
The sensed that their dad was about to lecture.
I knew that soon they'd both start to snooze
Which gave me a moment to just sit and muse.

It's been a great summer, with way too much fun,
Filled with excellent road trips and days in the sun.
But the summer is over, temperatures starting to cool,
It's time to wish you all a "Happy first day of school!"


Sunday, September 02, 2007

 

Puff Ball



Meet the newest member of our family, Puff Ball the Hamster.

I have no idea where she came from, or what she's doing here. This was a mother-daughter scheme.

She's cute. I hope the cats don't eat her.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

 

The Interview

I was honored recently to receive an interview request from Dan Hughes, noted British cultural anthropologist, parenting expert, and Diet Coke addict. Here is his penetrating interview with me:

What subject you teach your son do you feel least confident with?

Math, without a doubt. Only because my foundation in math is like a rickety old bridge that wasn't built quite right. I can do the work, but the process is kind of shaky, and it feels like my mental calculations might fall apart at any time.

I have great confidence in almost every other subject. Language skills have always been a strength. I was almost the spelling champion of my sixth grade class, only my teacher disqualified me for not spelling "Atlantic" with a capital "A"... Thirty years later, I'm still bitter about it and refuse to swim in that ocean. History is a favorite subject, and something that I seek out in books and magazines.

So, while teaching my son, I only have to fake my enthusiasm with math. I put on a brave face so he doesn't see my fear. The last thing I want to do is pass along my insecurities about numbers.

What did you want to do when you grew up?

I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg. Or George Lucas. Whichever one would give up his throne to me. From the age of 12 until about 20, my goal was to become a movie director. At some point reality set in and I set my sights on the world of television production. Eventually I started thinking about the news industry, both TV and radio. You see, my goals kept getting smaller and less ambitious. My last gasp with film and broadcasting was as a radio DJ in college.

What do you sing in the shower?

"Standing In The Shower Thinking" by Jane's Addiction.

Also, "Yellow Submarine" by The Beatles. And "Earn Enough For Us" by XTC.

Mostly, though, I try to respect the restraining order my family has issued against my shower singing.

Where did you meet your wife?

She was a bridesmaid, I was a groomsman. Mutual college friends were getting married, and for months they kept telling us about each other. We didn't actually meet until the wedding rehearsal. It was love at first sight. Our first date was the day after the wedding. I'll never forget how incredibly geeky and awkward I was (which is easy because I'm still geeky and awkward) as we ate dinner at the Biscuitroot, watched The Naked Gun at the Kenworthy, then laughed over dessert at Karen's Ice Cream Shop (this all took place in Moscow, Idaho). A year and a half later, we were the ones getting married. We recently celebrated our 17th anniversary.

What is your bank account number and credit card details?

Curious you should ask me this. I just recently received the same query from an attorney who represents certain financial interests in Nigeria. I'm not at liberty to discuss the details, but let me assure you that very soon I will be hosting a daddy blogger retreat on a private island in the Bahamas - all expenses paid!